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You are in: Berkshire > History > Local History > Davina, Bedborough and George IV

James Thomas Bedborough

James Thomas Bedborough

Davina, Bedborough and George IV

TV presenter Davina McCall finds out about an ancestor who helped build part of Windsor and Slough in the BBC series Who Do You Think You Are?. But was James Thomas Bedborough the illegitimate son of George IV?

Davina McCall has always been aware of a piece of folklore in her family - that one of her ancestors was an illegitimate child of George IV, who came to the throne in 1820.

For the first in a new series of Who Do You Think You Are?, the half French TV presenter delved into the past of her English side of the family.

Davina McCall looks pensive

Davina McCall looks pensive

With her maternal grandmother Pippy she discovers from an old marriage certificate that her great-great-great-great-grandfather was one James Thomas Bedborough.

And it was James Thomas who Pippy believes to be one of the many illegitimate children of the "randy old" King.

On Pippy's wall is a painting of Upton Park near Slough, which the grandmother believes is an estate bestowed upon James Thomas by George IV as a wedding gift.

"I need to find out whether Upton Park is the key that we're looking for to connect us to George IV," says Davina, "and I need to find out who James Bedborough was and if the house was really given to him by George IV."

However, in the Family Search files it shows that a James Thomas Bedberough (different spelling) was born on 30 October 1787 to a Thomas and Mary Bedberough. Though it's possible that this is false information to cover up the royal illegitimacy.

Royal genealogist Charles Mosley

Royal genealogist Charles Mosley

George IV's many illegitimate children

Royal geneologist Charles Mosley of the National Archives in Kew says: "I have come up with the names of 15 or 16 (illegitimate children), not all of them are definitely by him because many of the women he 'rogered' were considerable 'gals' in their day in the Regency period and had many lovers."

He adds: "You get some big cover-ups, for instance there is a suggestion of jobs being given for them through the court.

"I can't say of course that everybody connected with Royal palaces with the court is necessarily an illegitimate child of George IV. You can't ever know, but it's intelligent guessing."

And indeed among the millions of records housed in the archives, Charles has found a number which refer to James Thomas Bedborough.

Bedborough in Windsor

First there's notification of James Thomas's apprenticeship in 1804 as stone mason, aged 16.

Then in 1811 there's an account of the works at Windsor Castle. A James Bedborough is listed as a mason which involved 'taking down, cleaning and refixing chimney pieces in His Majesty's state apartments'. George III would have been on the throne at the time.

A painting of Windsor Castle

A painting of Windsor Castle

A portrait Davina's family has of James Thomas from around the 1830s shows him as a well-to-do gent.

"He's obviously done quite well for himself judging by his good clothing," says Mosley, "so clearly something more than just a stone mason."

Architectural historian Simon Bradley has more information on James Thomas at Windsor.

"He starts doing fairly rough work," he says, "the terrace that we're walking on - one of his early jobs was reconstructing it.

"He's not just a mason, he's 'the' mason, he's the king's master mason, he's got the plum job."

In 1820 George IV inherited the throne and promptly ordered an extravagant makeover of the castle - inside and out.

It would take more than a decade and cost the country more than £1 million.

George IV

George IV: randy and extravagant

Bedborough's career is on the up

It was the perfect chance for James Thomas Bedborough to showcase his skills.

So from his early days as a humble apprentice stone mason, James Thomas Bedborough had risen to the height of his craft, working on the most prestigious building project of the age, and beyond the castle walls new opportunities were opening up.

James carries on building into Windsor town, buying land and developing it into what is today known as Claremont Road and Clarence Crescent.

The area became known as the Bedborough estate.

In the late 1820s Britain was also in the midst of an industrial revolution.

Opportunities abounded for property developers and Windsor, which had previously been little more than a garrison town, was booming.

James Thomas Bedborough seized the chance and set about developing a whole new neighbourhood.

What Bedborough's obituary reveals

English Heritage historian Stephen Brindle has a copy of his obituary, which states he was "the largest house proprietor within the borough".

The obituary

The obituary

It shows James Thomas died in 1860 aged 73, and Davina also discovers through this document that he had been mayor of Windsor.

Stephen says: "He proved himself as a reliable and excellent craftsman I would guess, and he would have got a very good reputation in this quite small community.

"As he worked his way up he would have made connections with the town's professional classes and those connections then would really have helped him as he built his business."

In the obituary it states that Bedborough had become the purchaser of 20 acres of land in Upton.

So with any more links to George IV running dry, it would seem James Thomas Bedborough had earned his career and land through hard work, not through any royal connections.

The story takes a tragic turn

However this story of a talented entrepreneur and craftsman takes a tragic turn.

Two of his nine children committed suicide because James Thomas had left the family in a huge amount of debt.

In a newspaper article from 1865 it shows that George Bedborough, aged 52, had been found in a pond after he shot himself through the heart.

The newspaper reports that George "had been very strange in his demeanour of late, more particularly whenever the subject of his late father's property had been mentioned. He says 'they've done me out of the land and the houses in Upton Park'".

Davina McCall

Davina McCall at renamed Herschel Park

Upton Park

Upton Park near Slough was to be James Thomas Bedborough's most prestigious project.

Local historian Regita Mitchell tells Davina: "His vision was to built this wonderful housing estate for the rich and famous but he left a very sad legacy."

Capitalising on his reputation as a successful entrepreneur he risked over £20,000 on purchasing the land he needed, the equivalent of £2 million today.

His crowning development was to be a private estate of 50 exclusive homes set in their own park, leased to the professional classes. But his ambitious plans were never completed.

On his death in 1860 only 29 of the properties had been built. Acres of expensive land stood empty and potential profits unrealised.

The heavy financial commitments he'd taken on at the outset were to bring tragic repercussions to his whole family.

James Thomas had borrowed a lot of money to build the houses and left a lot of debts. And it fell to his family to untangle his financial affairs in court.

James Bedborough's plan for Upton Park

James Bedborough's plan for Upton Park

Rhiannon Markless at the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies says: "The problem comes when James actually dies, he's built up the two estates: Clarence Crescent and Upton Park.

"But to do that he's had to take out mortgages. He's taken out four mortgages which come to about £24,500, it's a big sum of money for that period and there isn't sufficient funds.

"Therefore the family take the matter to the chancery court, and it falls upon George to look after the management of the property.

"As an executor he's got to collect the rents, maintain the properties and he's got to oversee the bequests to the family members."

"This is most likely one of the factors which affects George."

George's brother John disappeared in 1871 and was later found dead in the River Thames. Apparently he was burdened with repaying loans he borrowed from his late father.

By 1881, James Thomas Bedborough's properties had been sold and the debts finally settled.

By then two of his sons were dead, and his family had lost everything.

last updated: 16/07/2009 at 15:12
created: 16/07/2009

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